It’s Halloween in Notchey Creek, Tennessee, and whiskey distiller Harley Henrickson is in the midst of preparations for the town’s autumn harvest festival. Harley lives a quiet life of books and hard work, an introvert who is dismissed by many as the town nerd. Her life is changed when she and her best friend, Tina Rizchek discover a disoriented stranger in the ditch, mumbling about a lost boy who was “innocent.” When the man disappears into the woods, Harley is left with many unanswered questions. Who was the mysterious man, and what happened to the innocent boy?
As she digs deeper, she discovers the stranger, in reality, was no stranger at all, and had ties to many highly-esteemed citizens in town. When one of those citizens, a wealthy history professor, is murdered on Halloween night, Harley decides to investigate. What she discovers is a multitude of secrets, lies, and sins, dating back decades, and revolving around a handsome and brooding rock star who has chosen Notchey Creek as his new home.
In addition to sleuthing, other issues are causing problems for Harley. Professional football player-turned sheriff, Jed Turner, doesn’t appreciate her interference in the murder investigation. The mayor and Chamber of Commerce president are convinced her pet pig, Matilda, is trying to ruin Pioneer Days. Her great-aunt, Wilma True–in between her hair emergencies–is on a mission to create matching festival outfits for Harley and her pig. And thanks to her great-uncle, Tater, she finds herself hauling a giant model cupcake, a pig, and an antique toilet in her truck–all in one week.
Source: Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars
Harley Henrickson has spent her life being underestimated, dismissed, or simply scorned. An orphan at an early age, Harley was raised by her beloved whiskey-distilling grandfather, her aunt Wilma and Uncle Tater. Harley is intelligent beyond compare, but life has kept her from pursuing a college education and realizing her true intellectual potential. With all the said, Harley wouldn’t change one thing about her life and has learned to fully accept her place in town as the nerdy girl with virtually no friends.
Harley’s best friend is the high-strung yet supremely talented local bakery owner, Tina Rizchek. Most of Tina’s phone calls to Harley begin with some form of shrieking, but in this instance, the shrieking is completely justified. When Harley makes her way to Tina, the two friends find an unconscious man in a ditch with no identification and no means of conveying to the women how he got there and in such a state. What’s more, in a small town like Notchey Creek, everyone knows everyone else and neither Tina nor Harley recognizes the poor man.
Though Harley certainly feels for the man, once he disappears, she assumes her role in the whole mess is over. Harley has every been so wrong. What transpires over the next days and weeks is a roller coaster ride of emotions, actions, and reactions that has everyone in town confused, hurt, and simply shocked by the secrets that are coming to light. Somehow, Harley has found herself smack dab in the center of the entire mess and if she can’t solve the mystery others are most certainly going to suffer.
Harley’s inherent intelligence and ability to mentally organize a load of information at a time are two of her greatest strengths. Her other strength lies in the fact that the people who truly know her, trust Harley and are willing to help her with information. Every person Harley talks to gives her a bit more information and with the help of the local library, Harley discovers a truth that has been buried for more than 20 years. Exposing the truth will alter the lives of a number of people as well as bring closure to several others. One thing is certain, no matter what Harley does, Notchey Creek is going to be forever changed.
Despite seemingly always being on her own, Harley finds herself surrounded by people as she investigates the various mysteries wrapped around the mystery man in the ditch. Perhaps the loudest and most obnoxious is town sheriff, Jed Turner. Once upon a time, Harley and Jed were good friends, but circumstances beyond their control tore them apart and now the two have something of a contentious relationship. Harley being far better at Jed’s job than he is certainly earns her no good will. What Jed simply can’t wrap his brain around is the fact Harley wants no recognition for her work, only the satisfaction of knowing she has righted several wrongs and genuinely helped people in distress.
The Bottom Line: It’s only April but I’m going to call this one of my favorite books of the year. What a wonderful new cozy mystery series for me and one I am very excited about sharing with others. The characters in this book really are wonderfully weird, quirky, and varied. From the delightful Aunt Wilma and Uncle Tater to the arrogant (though with a heart?) sheriff, I took such great pleasure in learning about each of these characters and how they fit into Harley’s life. For as much as I loved the characters, I loved the amount of history and backstory found in this book. So much about the local history, legends, and families is dealt with in this book and it was a delight to see it all play out and come together as it should, in the end. I found the plot to be just a smidge darker than the average cozy mystery, but this only enhanced the read further for me. In all, this is a very exciting new series well worth adding to your TBR.